Eighth in a series chronicling the Dallas Mavericks' streak of 10 seasons with 50 or more wins (previous installments).
Where to start with this strange season? In the rearview mirror was the double-doozy hammer of the 2006 Finals flop and the 2007 first-round failure. The Dallas Mavericks were considered mentally shot. How could the same core players regroup after consecutive unfathomable, gut-wrenching heartbreaks?
The first order of business was to promote slashing point guard Devin Harris as the full-time starter. Here's what coach Avery Johnson said about Harris before the season:
"The experiment with me trying to make him Jason Kidd, that's not his game. We have an idea now exactly who he is and I think we can maximize him being a certain type of point guard. He has a chance to be in that mold of a [Tony] Parker or even a Kevin Johnson."
Before Harris sprained his ankle on Jan. 27, 2008, he was averaging 14.4 points and 5.4 assists. The Mavs were 30-13 and in contention for the top spot in the West with the All-Star break a couple of weeks away. Yet, there was an undercurrent brewing that management, Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki were unhappy with Harris' ability to create for teammates. That game would be the last one of Harris' career in Dallas.
With multiple bizarre twists ahead, the season started to slowly slip away. The Mavs shipped Harris to New Jersey for veteran Jason Kidd in a multi-player trade that Johnson and the Mavs billed as finally giving the team a true quarterback. Even that proved to be a strange and prolonged process as Devean George blocked the original deal by utilizing a little-known clause in his contract. Jerry Stackhouse then raised eyebrows around the league when he prematurely talked about being part of the deal, then how he would get waived and then re-sign with Dallas after a 30-day vacation. In the end, neither player was included in the trade.
Oddly, in Kidd's fifth game with the Mavs, Johnson benched his quarterback in the final 30 seconds of a heated game at San Antonio. The Mavs failed to score on their final possession and the Spurs won the game. With Kidd, Dallas finished the regular season 16-13 and dropped to the No. 7 seed. Before the playoffs started, Josh Howard, who was having a career season, averaging 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds, began one of the weirdest meltdowns in team history.
Howard went on local radio to announce his offseason marijuana use. During the first-round series against New Orleans, he defied Johnson's plea not to party during the playoffs and passed out fliers to teammates advertising his late-night birthday bash. It was the beginning of a long, injury-filled end for Howard in Dallas. During the New Orleans series, Stackhouse went on local radio and for some reason blasted then-Hornets coach Byron Scott. Stackhouse had an awful playoff series, which proved to be the beginning of the end for him as a productive player in Dallas.
It was also the beginning of the end of Johnson's rapid tenure that achieved more incredible regular-season highs and unthinkable postseason lows than can fill most careers. In disarray throughout the 4-1 first-round loss to New Orleans, Johnson's teams went 3-12 in playoff games after leading Miami, 2-0, in the 2006 NBA Finals.
Johnson would never get a chance to improve that record.
Coach: Avery Johnson
Record: 51-31 (4th, Southwest Division)
Playoffs: Lost to New Orleans (4-1)
Team payroll: $101.7 million
Highest-paid player: Jason Kidd ($19.7 million)*; Michael Finley ($18.59 million**)
Offseason transactions: Drafted Nick Fazekas (2nd round, 34th pick); Signed F Brandon Bass (free agent); Signed G/F Eddie Jones (free agent); traded G Greg Buckner to Minnesota for G/F Trenton Hassell.
In-season transaction: Nov. 1, 2007: Signed F Juwan Howard (free agent); Feb. 19, 2008: Traded Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, Keith Van Horn (retired), a 2008 first-round draft and a 2010 first-round draft pick (and waived Nick Fazekas) to New Jersey for Jason Kidd, Antoine Wright and Malik Allen; Feb. 26, 2008: Signed C Jamaal Magliore (free agent); March 4, 2008: Signed G Tyronn Lue (free agent).
The high: The Mavs became just the fourth franchise in NBA history to win at least 50 games in eight consecutive seasons. In the 743rd game of his career, Dirk Nowitzki became the Mavs' career scoring leader (16,644). His 15-foot jumper in the final minutes of a 111-91 win over New Jersey moved Nowitzki past Rolando Blackman. It gave Nowitzki the franchise records in points, rebounds, 3-point field goals and free throws.
The low: Even though Avery Johnson, by all appearances, was behind the trade for Jason Kidd, it seemed the two never meshed. Johnson's need for control vs. Kidd's need to freelance was like oil and water. If the theory was that Mark Cuban traded for Kidd to try to save Johnson's job, that plan backfired horribly. Johnson, it became all the more apparent, was losing his team as the season wound down. The final straw for him was Howard's birthday bash. Johnson was so outraged by it that he canceled practice the day before Game 5, only at the time no one was certain why he had called off the workout on the eve of an elimination game. Cuban wasted no time after the Game 5 debacle in New Orleans and fired Johnson on the plane trip back after just three full seasons and with three years remaining on his lucrative contract.
F Dirk Nowitzki (23.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
F Josh Howard (19.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg)
G Jason Terry (15.5 ppg, 37.5% 3FG)
G Devin Harris (14.4 ppg, 5.3 apg in 39 games)
G Jason Kidd (9.9 ppg, 9.5 apg in 29 games)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (10.7 ppg, 40.5% FG)
F Brandon Bass (8.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 19.7 mpg)
G Antoine Wright (3.5 ppg, 11.7 mpg in 15 games)
C Erick Dampier (6.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
G Tyronn Lue (3.8 ppg in 17 games)
F Malik Allen (3.1 ppg, 0.6 rpg in 25 games)
G J.J. Barea (4.3 ppg, 1.3 apg in 44 games)
G/F Eddie Jones (3.7 ppg, 29.3% 3FG)
G/F Devean George (3.7 ppg, 32.4% 3FG)
C DeSagana Diop (3.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg in 52 games)
G/F Trenton Hassell (2.1 ppg in 37 games)
C Jamaal Magliore (played in six games)
G Maurice Ager (played in 12 games)
F Juwan Howard (1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg in 50 games)
F Nick Fazekas (played in four games)
**The Mavericks waived Michael Finley on Aug. 15, 2005, taking advantage of a one-time amnesty provision that allowed them to avoid luxury taxes on the $51.8 million owed him over the next three years. Finley became an unrestricted free agent and joined the San Antonio Spurs, although the Mavs remained on the hook to pay his full salary.